By Helen Albert
Results from a study carried out in a deprived borough of London in the UK suggest that many children living there purchase food or drink from fast food outlets at least twice a week.
"A major concern is the ubiquitous presence of fast food and takeaway outlets within easy walking distance of schools, particularly in the light of the increasing burden of childhood obesity," explain Mei-Yen Chan (Newcastle University, UK) and colleagues.
Writing in BMJ Open, they report that over 50% of 193 schoolchildren (11-14 years) questioned purchased fast food or drinks at least twice a week, with 10% consuming products from these outlets daily. The children were from Tower Hamlets in inner London.
No link between age, gender, or entitlement to free school meals and intake of fast food or drink was observed. However, children from ethnic minorities had more frequent consumption.
Of the children surveyed, 70% of Black ethnicity, 54% of Asian ethnicity, and 40% of White ethnicity purchased fast food or drink at least twice a week. The authors say that this is of concern as people from Asian or Black backgrounds tend to be more at risk for conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes that are associated with obesity.
Around 30% of the children were overweight or obese (32% boys; 29% girls). The team found that there was a significant inverse association between fast food or drink consumption and body mass index (BMI) age-gender percentile, but this became nonsignificant when adjusted for age and gender.
Chan et al found that the portion size of food and likelihood for buying sweetened over nonsweetened drinks with food went up with higher frequency of fast food intake. Most (70%) of the children also said that they preferred the taste of nondiet drinks.
When asked what might motivate more healthy food choice, the children said that more choice and lower prices would allow them to eat more healthily.
"Clearly, actions need to be taken to either limit the ability of these children to access fast food outlets or to change the foods they purchased at these outlets (eg, less calorie dense, with more fruit and vegetables, with less fat and salt)," write the authors.
"Indeed, these schoolchildren were positive to modifications and may well choose healthier options if they were made easily available."
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